Joy Youwakim

My parents are both from Lebanon. In 1975, the civil war caused the capital city, Beirut, to be split in half based on religion. My dad lived on the west side, and his options were to leave or risk being attacked. My mom actually stayed during the war and had to move around many times growing up. They eventually met when my dad returned to Lebanon, moved here to Nederland, TX, and had me.

Nederland is fairly homogenous. Growing up, I was the only person in my school from the Middle East (which, by the way is 15 countries and not all ISIS) from Kindergarten to 12th grade. I constantly had to explain to others that yes Lebanon had cars and electricity, that ok maybe I was hairier than them but I was still feminine, that no I couldn’t go out to IHOP at 3am or sleepover at your house. I felt like home was a different country entirely.

I’m very proud to be Lebanese-American. I feel like being from another culture has taught me how to be more empathetic towards others as a result, and I like the person it’s shaped me to be. From Lebanese culture I’ve seen how American culture can feel very cold in comparison: it’s very individualistic, where people are always doing things on their own, where people sometimes only talk to you when they need you. In Lebanese culture family and friends are really important and centric in one’s life.

However it wasn’t always that way. I struggled growing up because I never felt like I was American enough. I felt like I constantly had to prove myself. I went to protestant non-denominational churches despite being Eastern-Orthodox(which wasn't really Christianity because no one had heard of it) to fit in with my friends, had to do well in school, had to show others that yes, I was just as American. No one should have to feel that.

[I] had to show others that yes, I was just as American. No one should have to feel that.

The current political scene scares me. I feel like people look at me differently from before, notice me more. There is a clearer distinction between people who attempt to understand my fear and people who are blinded by their privilege of never having their identity as Americans questioned. I live with the fear that tomorrow Lebanon is the next country on the banned list. America was built by immigrants, and we should be proud of our diversity— not try to paint it white. 

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